As part of a fascinating exhibit, Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times, the Ten Commandments Scroll will be on display December 16 through January 2, 2012, at Discovery Times Square on West 44th Street. This is especially exciting for curious minds because the scroll is the most complete and best preserved ancient example of the Ten Commandments in the world.
Measuring approximately 18 by 3 inches (46.5 x 7.7 cm), this sacred document was discovered in 1952 in a cave near Khirbet, Qumran, and is one of hundreds of texts that were found hidden within 11 caves in that area along the Dead Sea. The texts are comprised of a variety of religious documents written in Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew and date from 250 BCE to 68 AD.
The significance of finding and preserving the Ten Commandments Scroll -- and similar texts -- is multifaceted. Obviously, it has incredible religious and spiritual significance among many people around the globe. But it also has historical importance from a preservation standpoint and is part of a larger concern regarding how we care for and treat ancient texts and the written word. And finally, a discussion of this ancient document would not be complete without considering its relevance to modern society in general. The Ten Commandments are perhaps the oldest "laws" of the land, providing a broad-reaching moral compass regardless of religious ties or affiliations.
Read on to learn some interesting facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, the scrolls themselves, their importance in today's world, and what some of today's greatest thinkers have to say about it all.
8: A Sizeable Score
Approximately 900 different writings and writing fragments were discovered in the 11 caves near Khirbet, Qumran between 1947 and 1956. The initial discovery was made by a Bedouin shepherd. A little more than 200 of the writings found have been identified as being text from the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments Scroll that will be joining the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Discovery Times Square December 16 through January 2, 2012.
Although similar philosophies have appeared in many cultures throughout history, many people today associate "The Golden Rule" with the Ten Commandments. It's interesting to know that the philosophy not only crosses cultures, but species as well.
"... I have dreams about, and wake up about, the meaning-of-life kind of questions. I asked Koko that once and her answer was, "People be polite," and then parentheses, "to other people" -- sort of the golden rule was her idea of what life is about. It's being good to one another and that would extend out to being good to gorillas.
I was struggling with that myself, because it seems like bad things happen to good people, and how do you explain that? And basically, in the middle of the night, I came up with: If everything is one, which is sort of the spiritual point of view out there, that's kind of where Koko was coming from. Treat everybody like you'd treat yourself."
7: Withstanding the Test of Time
The Ten Commandments scroll is the most complete and best preserved ancient example of the Ten Commandments in the world. The ancient parchment, which is made from animal skin, is incredibly fragile. While fires, floods and battles have been obvious dangers to ancient texts written on parchment, today, curators must be concerned about other potential hazards to these historical documents including humidity, light, and temperature fluctuations. Given its fragile nature, it's remarkable that the Ten Commandments Scroll has survived for several centuries.
It's rare that people have the opportunity to see such an exceptional relic, so it's no surprise that visitors were lined up for miles when the scroll was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Exhibitions of this nature are integral to our understanding and appreciation of historical events.
It seems as though Sarah Thomas of Oxford's Bodleian Library would agree. When asked about the significance of putting the Magna Carta on display, she had this to say:
"We got bored telling people about the Magna Carta. We started asking them why they came. I'll never forget a parking lot attendant ... We asked him about the meaning of the Magna Carta and he gave a five-minute discourse on the importance of this document for democracy, for man and the free man. It was one of the most moving experiences I had had. It showed me what we're doing now in the 21st century is we're allowing individuals to speak.
Here you have this document from the 13th century coming forward 700 years, and it still has meaning ... It's a value that has endured. And it's endured because we've kept it safe in our cultural institutions, but it's acquired increased value and meaning as it connects with the wider population."
6: Thousands Attend Viewing
During its showing of a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, which included a limited 80-hour display of the Ten Commandments Scroll, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto received more than 300,000 visitors keen on viewing the ancient artifacts. In an age of ever-increasing virtual exhibits and online experiences, some might be surprised at this magnificent turnout. It's likely, though, that Curiosity luminary and Smithsonian Institution Secretary Wayne Clough would not be. When we asked him if it's important to see museum exhibitions in person, he responded:
"I think human beings are a tribe, and we enjoy communal experiences. We still like to go to movies even though we can get them on our television. We still like to go to movies and laugh with other people and share our joys with other people. I think the same thing is true: When you see these incredibly important objects, you want to experience that with somebody else ... This is a two-fold thing. I think the real thing has a power that no image would ever have, and secondly, it's sharing that experience with other people."
5: Construction Instructions
The Temple Scroll, which measures an amazing 26.7 feet (8.146 meters), is the largest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although long, the 18-sheet parchment is incredibly thin, coming in at a mere one-tenth of a millimeter [source: Digital Dead Sea Scrolls]. As its name implies, the text relays directions for building the temple in Jerusalem and certain observances once the temple was constructed. The text is divided into four principle categories: construction instructions, festivals and sacrificial rites, laws regarding purity and impurity, and an adaptation of Deuteronomy [source: Roitman/Dorot Foundation]. The scroll was first translated/interpreted in a publication by Professor Yigael Yadin in 1977.
4: Moving from Oral Tradition to Written Word
Obviously, the Ten Commandments has incredible religious and spiritual significance among many people throughout the world. And the Ten Commandments are perhaps the oldest "laws" of the land, providing a broad-reaching moral compass regardless of religious ties or affiliations.
As a whole, the Dead Sea Scrolls likely mark a significant change in Judaic teachings, moving from oral tradition to the written word and the beginning of the rabbinic era, at which time the Mishnah, the earliest portion of the Talmud, was written (sometime around A.D. 200).
"I am religious because I observe. I had my crisis after the war, of course, and I write about it. I try to be honest with myself, but I came back again. I want to do what my parents have done. What my grandparents have done. I come from a long line of scholars and rabbinic authorities from Rashi. But, I call it spirituality? Yes, why not? You can, you may, that is what is the word that links me to others. But, practically it means also to abide by certain religious principles. I study every day the Talmud. I daven every day. I try to observe the Sabbath because my parents have done that and my teachers from my youth have done that. True, they died, and I think it was a sin by the world and maybe by more than the world that they died."
3: Did a Dead Sea Scroll inspire Indiana Jones?
One of the most talked about scrolls of the Dead Sea collection is also one of its most unique. The aptly named Copper Scroll is made of one-millimeter-thick, high-quality copper sheeting. The text, which was hammered into the copper, does not represent religious writings, however. Rather, it reads like an ancient scavenger hunt or secret treasure list, naming 64 potential loot-filled locations.
Although people have attempted to follow the ancient clues, the treasure hasn't been forthcoming. It's likely the trouble lies in lost landmarks and a vastly altered landscape -- a lot can happen over 20 centuries.
Sometimes hidden items can be found even when you're not looking for them -- and in some rather unlikely places as is evidenced by Curiosity luminary and Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough's response to our question about amazing pieces within the Smithsonian's collections:
"Well, I have them right here in my office. I do have this wonderful opportunity -- we're going to be doing an exhibition on the "Jefferson Bible" -- well, the so-called Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson made up something called "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" that's extracted from the "Gospels," literally by cutting with a razor what he thought were the moral lessons that were important for the democracy that he was helping to create. He did that when he was 77 years old.
The thrilling part about that was -- I had a copy of that probably 30 years ago, because I enjoyed reading what Thomas Jefferson thought was so important in the Bible for the democracy that we have. But to see the real thing -- coming back to the real thing -- in order for us to have the exhibition, they had to take this apart and restore it. And so when they did that, they found, my goodness, he had made notes on the binding and things like that. That was amazing to me."
2: Fear versus Love
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls came some interesting revelations and new interpretations of religious texts. For example in the English Standard Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 8:6 reads, "And you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and fearing him." However, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the word "loving" sits in place of "fearing" [source: Parry].
It's interesting how much difference one word -- or a few more -- can make. Upon being asked, "What would you like to accomplish with your words?" Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate, Boston University Professor and Curiosity luminary replied:
"I would like to use words without betraying their silence. I speak of silence not morally, to be silent when silence is a sin – of course, I am against it. My favorite commandment in the Bible is Thou shall not stand idly by," and I think that is the basis for all the human rights activities that we have today in the world. "Thou shall not stand idly by" means don't be silent because somebody's shouting for help."
1: Digitizing the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, a collaboration between the Israel Museum and Google, is making these ancient texts available to the masses. According to James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum, the scrolls "are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world heritage, and they represent unique highlights of our Museum's encyclopedic holdings. Now, through our partnership with Google, we are able to bring these treasures to the broadest possible public" [source: Digital Dead Sea Scrolls].
To date, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll, have all been made available online. Not only can the ultra-high resolution photographs of the scrolls be enlarged for super thorough examination, one scroll has interactive capabilities that allow viewers to submit verse translations in their native languages -- something we think Anya Kamenetz, Author, Fast Company Writer, Educational Futurist and Curiosity luminary might be impressed by. When asked about the future of print media, Kamenetz replied:
"I think that it's important to be medium-agnostic. It's important to not get hung up on whether your work is being delivered in dead-tree format. The important parts about print media, the things that we like, are the thoughtfulness that goes into it and the time that goes into it. The editing and the checking, these are all great things. I think that they can all be preserved in a digital format and that they're going to be."
And on whether everyone should have free access to knowledge, she said:
"... everybody has the potential to participate in knowledge creation as well as knowledge consumption. And, the only way they were going to get out of the mess that faces the planet is if we start tapping into the creative potential of people around the world.
Right now, there are 100 million or 200 million, or a billion people in the world who feel like they have a voice and we need to expand that out. There are many, many, many people out there whose every piece of energy goes to basic survival. They may be the people that have the answer, that have the grand power to connect us to the solutions to the problems that face us so staggeringly. But, we're never going to know unless we get them into the conversation."
You can join the Curiosity conversation by visiting us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CuriosityTV. And for more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, check out the links on the next page.
Lots More Information
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More Great Links
- Boase, Sharon. "Copper Scroll Points to Legendary Riches; Redeemer Bible Scholar Tells Tale of Mystery, Intrigue." Hamilton Spectator, The (ON), n.d., Newspaper Source Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed December 15, 2011).
- "Dead Sea Scrolls." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (November 2011): 1. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed December 15, 2011).
- The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls. (Accessed December 15, 2011) http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/
- Lawler, Andrew. "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?" Smithsonian 40, no. 10 (January 2010): 40. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed December 15, 2011).
- Parry, Donald W. "The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible." Studies in the Bible & Antiquity no. 2 (December 2010): 2-27. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (Accessed December 15, 2011).
- Roitman, Adolfo, "Envisioning the Temple: Scrolls, Stones, and Symbols." The Dorot Foundation Dead Sea Scrolls Information and Study Center in memory of Joy Gottesman Ungerleider. (Accessed December 15, 2011). http://www.imj.org.il/shrine_center/Temple_article.html